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The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a technical amendment to make clear that the ancillary provisions of Clause 8 also extend to Scotland. Noble Lords will be aware that the intention is that Clause 6 in respect of welfare benefits will not be commenced in Scotland until there is Scottish legislation in place to provide support for care leavers. This amendment will allow Clause 6 to be commenced in Scotland by order at the appropriate time. I beg to move.
Lord Astor of Hever: I rise to give my objections to the Question that Clause 57 stand part of the Bill. We seek to ensure that the present time-limit in relation to an appeal will remain as 12 months. We believe that the current time-limit within which to lodge an appeal works satisfactorily. The United States has a 12-month time-limit for its appeals.
There is some concern that if the time-limit is reduced to six months, servicemen and women who suffer illness or incapacity may not have sufficient time to gather the information necessary for an appeal. Appeals are long and tortuous processes, and such men and women will have had to go through the problems of the initial claim. Accordingly, the 12-month period should remain.
Baroness Carnegy of Lour: I rise to support my noble friend Lord Astor of Hever. The Law Society of Scotland is concerned about this issue. Six months seems to be a short time. I hope that the Minister will give an adequate explanation of why she believes that the people in the circumstances that my noble friend has mentioned will find that six months is long enough.
This clause provides new time-limits for war pensions appeals. Currently, there are two time-limits, a three-month time-limit and a 12-month time-limit, but some appeals are not subjected to any time-limit. Furthermore, those time-limits can be extended indefinitely if the appellant shows "reasonable excuse" for not bringing an appeal earlier. In practice, almost all late applications are heard and therefore there is no effective appeal time-limit.
It may help if I describe how the current provisions came about. Much of the war pensions appeals legislation dates from 1943. Naturally, the provisions were generous, acknowledging the very real difficulties that people faced at that time in both claiming a war pension and appealing against decisions. We can see that approach reflected in the test of whether a late appeal should be accepted. The appellant was only required to demonstrate that he, or she, had a "reasonable excuse" for delaying bringing the appeal. Legislators in 1943 did not attempt to provide for the many possible reasons people would have for not bringing an appeal within the specified time. But the legislators always envisaged that all appeals should be subject to a time-limit.
The effect of using that legislation, more than 50 years later, is that tribunals are asked to consider whether a decision, sometimes made decades before, was made correctly. It is a time-limit about appeals only, and not the initial decision. This is a time-consuming business as the tribunal attempts to ascertain the appellant's circumstances as they existed when the decision was made--possibly 10 years earlier, 20 years earlier or longer--and to apply the medical understanding and legislation that existed at that time. That does not help the tribunal to reach just decisions.
The provisions in this clause will require appellants to appeal closer to the time when the decision is made, when the facts of the matter are clear and not subject to assumptions about conditions that existed in distant memory. Hence interim decisions will retain the current three-month appeal time-limit but all other appeals will be subject to a six-month time-limit.
We have proposed a six-month appeal time-limit, which is a more generous time-limit than appeals to almost any other tribunal. This is because we recognise a debt of gratitude and because we need to strike the right balance, recognising that war pensioners' appeals have not previously been subjected to time-limits, unlike other appellants such as social security appellants.
I am aware that there has been some concern--as voiced this afternoon by the noble Lord, Lord Astor, and the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour--that a period of six months does not provide vulnerable and perhaps grieving people with sufficient time in which to bring an appeal. I should perhaps add that, before the appeal time-limit starts, a person will have made a claim for a war disablement pension or a war widows
I should perhaps add that introducing these provisions does not alter the position that war pension claims originally are not time limited. It is the appeals only that are to be time limited. Indeed, the War Pensions Agency continues to receive new claims from people who are now identifying conditions that they attribute to service undertaken 50 or more years ago. The appeal time-limit applies only from the time the claim is decided. I also know that people are concerned that there may be changes in medical opinion, and if your Lordships want, I can discuss that further.
This clause also contains a provision that would enable the appeal time-limits to be varied either up or down. We have no intention of doing that, but we want to see whether the changes that we propose in this clause make good sense. Certainly the advice that we have had from some ex-servicemen's organisations is that they feel comfortable with the proposals.
We intend to replace the "reasonable excuse" provision with regulations that where there are late appeals, they must be accepted within the 12 months following the statutory appeal time-limit. These regulations, which will be subject to the affirmative procedure, will enable war pensioners to know the circumstances in which a late appeal may be accepted by the presidents of the pensions appeal tribunals.
Decisions made before the new time-limit is commenced will have transitional protection. People who receive a decision before this provision is commenced will have at least one year from the notification of the decision in which to bring an appeal, excepting those interim decisions that are currently, and will remain, subject to a three-month appeal time-limit. The new appeal time-limits will apply to people for whom decisions are made on and after the commencement date. I should also add--I am sure that this will be of interest to your Lordships--that the War Pensions Agency intends to contact war pensioners, by post and through articles in magazines, to advise them of their new appeal rights and the changes in the appeal time-limits.
I hope that your Lordships will agree that there is no limit to the time within which the original claim may be brought. Clearly, some illnesses or disabilities may occur significantly later than the point at which the injury occurred. However, we believe that this is reasonable and, as far as I am aware, no deep concerns about the matter have been raised by the relevant organisations. It seems reasonable that the appeal should be within six months of that decision, otherwise a decision could come 20 years after the original circumstance and an appeal 20 years after that. Clearly, it would be unreasonable in those situations to expect a tribunal to be able to make a decision that was informed by the circumstances at the time. I believe that the proposal is reasonable. If, at any subsequent stage, we need to vary it in the light of the workings of the proposals, I shall be happy to come back to your
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